Doctor of Philosophy
Byrd Clark, Julie S.
This dissertation explores the accounts of educators and parents regarding the accessibility of American Sign Language (ASL) and its acquisition by deaf children in Ontario, Canada. It is generally known that deaf children’s ASL acquisition and proficiency is directly affected by their early exposure to the language; the earlier and greater the exposure, the greater the acquisition and proficiency, while later and inadequate exposure results in poorer acquisition and proficiency. In the face of societal and educational systems in Ontario, there have been some attempts to provide opportunities for deaf children and their families to develop and acquire ASL (Snoddon, 2008, 2014, 2016). At the same time, however, ASL-English bilingual programs have had an abundance of English resources while ASL resources remain markedly insufficient. Deaf children may experience difficulty in connecting with their families and educators—intellectually, emotionally, linguistically—due to the lack of access to ASL resources during their infancy and childhood years. Stemming from Cummins’ (1996, 2001) linguistic interdependence hypothesis and my own Master’s research (Rouse, 2016), this dissertation examines how insufficient training, limited options of resources and an apparent lack of knowledge of existing research on deaf children’s language learning negatively impacts their ASL acquisition and proficiency. These factors have significant implications for various educational programs and take root when minority languages, particularly in a bilingual education system, are neither fully acknowledged nor supported by policymakers. Systemic barriers continue to make ASL inaccessible for educators, children and their families which, in turn, results in poorer language outcomes for the children. The paper shares the findings about systemic attitudes, accessibility, preparations, and ASL resources and strategies concerning deaf children’s language development. The findings may validate and inspire the need for change in Ontario’s societal and educational systems by highlighting the benefits of ASL resources and their use. In addition, the findings reveal deaf children’s ways of “doing language,” and thereby can inform the ways in which researchers, educators, parents and policymakers think about the quality of ASL-English bilingual education, in community services, educational programs, and particularly within the everyday classroom.
Summary for Lay Audience
This thesis looks at deaf children’s access to and acquisition of American Sign Language (ASL) through the stories of educators (teachers and educational assistants) and parents. It is commonly known that deaf children’s experience of learning and using ASL as their first language base is dependent on how early and how often they are exposed to the language. While looking at resources being available at ASL-English bilingual schools and local communities in Ontario, Canada, I realized there are many English resources and yet so few ASL resources. Something has to be done for a change by exploring inside societal and educational systems in Ontario to understand why ASL is not accessible, not only for deaf children, but also for educators and parents. From interviewing 10 adult participants and observing 3 kindergarten participants, I learned there are some issues that need to be sorted out: systemic attitudes, accessibility, preparations, and ASL resources and strategies concerning deaf children’s language development. I hope by gaining an awareness of the need for deaf children to access more ASL resources, the findings will inspire change in Ontario’s societal and educational systems. In the end, it is incredible to capture deaf children’s ways of “doing language,” because it can let us know the ways we are obligated to think about the quality of ASL-English bilingual education, in community services, educational programs, and particularly within the everyday classroom.
Rouse, Jenelle, "Exploring the Acquisition of American Sign Language by Deaf Kindergarten Children: Early Language Access and the Use of Appropriate Resources" (2020). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. 7184.